Sat. Oct 23rd, 2021

Calls for an international inquiry led by the UN are growing as a Lebanese inquiry cannot hold accountable.

Human rights groups, survivors and relatives of victims of the port explosion in Lebanon, call on the United Nations to support an international, independent and impartial investigation, bypassing a local investigation that has not yet yielded a significant arrest or even identify a culprit.

A total of 145 signatories – including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – on Wednesday called on the UN Human Rights Council to set up an international, independent and impartial investigative mission, such as a one-year inquiry.

In a joint letter, the signatories argued that the domestic inquiry had repeatedly hampered and “failed to meet the standard, based on international standards, set out by the UN’s special procedures”.

The experts of the UN’s special procedures issued a statement in August 2020 setting out criteria, based on international human rights standards, for a credible investigation into the explosion.

“The failures of the internal investigation to ensure accountability dramatically illustrate the greater culture of impunity for officials that has long been the case in Lebanon,” they said.

The letter follows a similar letter sent by 115 rights groups, survivors and families of the victims in June 2021.

The explosion of tons of ammonium nitrate on 4 August 2020 at the port in Beirut was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. It killed at least 214 people, injured thousands and destroyed entire neighborhoods.

A year later, many residents lived in the port area stay in the battle, unable to rebuild their lost homes. An estimated 77,000 buildings were damaged in the blast.

Human Rights Watch and other organizations said there was evidence that government officials were aware of the significant danger to life posed by ammonium nitrate, which hampered the progress of a local investigation.

A First Chief Investigator was removed by court in February after accusing former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three former ministers of “negligence and the deaths of hundreds of people”.

The second, Judge Tarek Bitar, also faced obstructions, including parliament refusing to lift the immunity of former ministers – who are also lawmakers – so he can question them.

Bitar sued Diab in August for questioning on September 20, but local media reported that the former prime minister had flown to the United States to see his family.

Diab’s government thank in the aftermath of the blast, but remained in a watchdog until this week when a new government finally took office after 13 months of political strife.

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